WAUKESHA, Wis. — Darrell Brooks, the man accused of killing six people and injuring dozens more in the Waukesha Christmas parade, heads back to court on Tuesday after changing his plea.
Tuesday afternoon, Brooks faces the court to answer one question: whether or not he is participating in his court-ordered mental health evaluations. This comes just over a week after Brooks and his attorneys changed his plea to not guilty by mental disease or defect.
Earlier this month, the judge overseeing the trial denied the defense’s request for a change in the venue or for an outside jury to be brought in for the trial, which is scheduled to start in October. Back in April, the court sent out a questionnaire to more than 2,000 potential jurors to see if an impartial trial could be held in Waukesha County. Nearly 1,500 were returned and of those:
– 720 people said they attended or knew someone who attended the parade
– 188 potential jurors reported they donated to a fundraiser
– 45 percent of all potential jurors answered “Yes” to at least one of the questions about the trauma impact of this case.
Because of this, Brooks’ lawyers said jurors have too much of a connection to the case, but prosecutors said they found 574 people who they say are suitable for voir dire, the in-person jury selection process for the start of the trial, which is expected to last about a month.
CHANGE IN VENUE DENIED
On June 20, Waukesha Judge Jennifer Dorow denied a change of venue request for Darrell Brooks, who faces 83 charges in Waukesha County Court. She said in part the defense failed to demonstrate evidence of bias in the community that would prevent a fair trial.
The judge also denied a request to select jurors from a different county.
The judge spoke for more than an hour, citing many cases. She explained why she believes an impartial jury can be selected from within the county.
“What is important and constitutionally required is that the jurors be impartial,” Judge Dorow said. “This factor is focused on whether the prospective jurors can set aside their prior knowledge of the case and return a verdict based on the facts and information presented at trial.”
Brooks’ attorneys also stated he intends to change his plea to not guilty by reason of mental defect or disease.
Brooks and his attorneys wanted the judge to either move the trial out of Waukesha County, or bring in a jury from another county. They said in part the case is too prevalent in the community for a jury to be impartial.
“The problem is that those here know their neighbors, know their kids’ friends, the reminders in storefronts, front porches, yards, city hall, barricades at public events,” defense attorney Jeremy Perri said. “It’s more than just a high-profile case where a lot of people know about it.”
They cite the responses from more than 1,500 jury questionnaires. Those were sent out months ago to see whether an impartial jury could be seated.
Defense attorneys say the jury questionnaire responses show more than 700 people wrote they either went to the parade or knew someone who went to the parade. Some of the responses showed people attended vigils or donated to fundraisers.
Prosecutors say there’s no need for a change of venue.
“People put out blue lights and they hung up Waukesha Strong signs,” said Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper. “Where’s the prejudice to Mr. Brooks in that? Do the signs say Darrell Brooks is guilty?”
Ultimately the judge said an impartial jury can be found through jury selection closer to trial, where she and the attorneys can further question potential members of the jury in person. That’s when they can ask about their opinions and what they have seen or read about the case.
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